HARARE – The discord between Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s allies and his employer – the government – burst into the public domain yesterday as the two sides took diametrically opposite positions over what could have caused the 75-year-old politician to suffer a relentless bout of blood vomiting and diarrhoea on Saturday.
Government has ruled out suspected food poisoning, saying results of tests conducted so far suggest that the vice president ate stale food on the day in question, which upset his tummy.
It has also dismissed social media reports that Mnangagwa, who is currently hospitalised in South Africa, could have consumed ice cream laced with poison at a youth interface rally held in Gwanda on Saturday, prompting him to leave the venue in a huff in order to seek medical attention.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Chris Mushohwe was quoted in the State media on Thursday dismissing reports doing the rounds as false, informing the nation that tests had instead indicated he had eaten stale food.
“What doctors think happened is that he ate stale food,” Mushohwe claimed.
But Mnangagwa’s associates have reacted angrily to the claims, telling the Daily News that doctors attending to the ailing politician, for long seen as President Robert Mugabe’s likely successor, were yet to release results of tests they ran to determine the cause of severe stomach cramps he suffered last Saturday.
Mnangagwa’s close confidante, Jorum Gumbo – who is the second most senior Zanu PF member in the vice president’s home province of Midlands – differed with Mushohwe yesterday, saying the politician did not eat any stale food.
“He did not consume any stale food. He flew from Harare to Bulawayo along with many other people before taking a helicopter to Gwanda, so I wonder where the stale food would have come from,” Gumbo said.
Mnangagwa was airlifted to South Africa for treatment on Sunday where he is still admitted.
He had fallen ill in the Matabeleland South provincial capital of Gwanda while attending a Zanu PF youth interface meeting addressed by Mugabe.
There has been widespread speculation that Mnangagwa consumed food poisoned by his Zanu PF rivals in an attempt to physically eliminate him from the succession race.
With Mugabe turning 94 in February next year, fierce jostling has emerged among his top lieutenants who believe they have what it takes to succeed him.
The race, which has been on for the past two decades, has had its intrigues.
Four vice presidents have so far succumbed to varying ailments, denying them of the opportunity to get a chance to run for the top office.
These are Joshua Nkomo (1917-1999); Simon Muzenda (1922-2003); Joseph Msika (1923-2009) and John Landa Nkomo (1934-2013).
More interestingly, Joice Mujuru, once seen as a shoo-in to take over from Mugabe, was fired from Zanu PF and government in 2014 for plotting to dethrone her boss using unconstitutional means.
Mujuru, who is now leading the National People’s Party, had deputised Mugabe for about 10 years.
Nicknamed “the crocodile” in the Shona language, Mnangagwa was appointed after the sacking of Mujuru.
But since taking over from Mujuru, Mnangagwa has found himself facing similar charges from his internal rivals of plotting to unseat Mugabe.
Mnangagwa’s allies are therefore pointing an accusing finger at their rivals in Generation 40 (G40) for what happened on Saturday although there is no evidence to validate their claims.
In the past, there have been six break-ins at his offices with his allies saying those were plots to eliminate him.
Gumbo refused to speculate on the cause of Mnangagwa’s sickness yesterday, saying things will only be clear when test results are released.
“I personally did not see him eating ice cream or any other food at the rally because I arrived a bit late. I would therefore rather not speculate about the cause of the sickness because I am waiting for the test results like everyone else,” he said.
“I talk to him daily over the phone. He says he is recovering very well and responding to treatment. He is actually waiting for the results of the test so as to confirm what really transpired before he comes back to work,” said the Transport and Infrastructural Development minister, who also doubles up as secretary for education in the Zanu PF politburo.
Gumbo is considered one of Mnangagwa’s loyalists who have defended him against an onslaught mounted by his opponents trending under the moniker G40.
The military, seen as sympathetic to Mnangagwa’s prospects of succeeding Mugabe, has, along with his family, virtually taken charge of the vice president’s battle for survival, with the other arms of government that should have been at the forefront of it, playing second fiddle.
For example, on his way to seek specialist treatment in South Africa, the vice president had to be accompanied by a military doctor, Paul Chimedza — a former deputy minister for Health. The entourage also included Marry Chiwenga, wife to Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander Constantino Chiwenga — who is keeping the ZDF chief upraised of developments — and a top security operative, Charles Mpanduki.
From the family side, Mnangagwa’s son Emmerson Dambudzo Junior and the vice president’s wife, Auxillia, accompanied him.
From the time he was airlifted from Gwanda, to being committed into an Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) health institution and to being airlifted to South Africa from Manyame Airbase on Sunday, the army has basically taken charge of the proceedings, with the full blessings of his family.
So deep has been the army’s involvement in the arrangements that the civilian side of government struggled for information because of the secretive nature of all military operations.
Yesterday, Zimbabweans from all walks of life were invited to a prayer meeting for the vice president, which was poorly attended.
Axed Zanu PF youth league members Godwin Gomwe, Godfrey Tsenengamu, Vengai Msengi and Lewis Mathuthu headlined the poorly-attended prayer meeting at the Robert Mugabe Square in Harare.
The prayer vigil comes after an alleged prophecy by United Family International Church leader Emmanuel Makandiwa predicting that Mnangagwa would be a fool if he banks on doctors to make him better.
“Doctors will not save him,” says Makandiwa’s prophesy video.
Clad in shirts emblazoned Bold and Speedy Recovery Shumba, the small crowd that had been bussed to the scene congregated for the event which had been scheduled to begin at 10am but only started two hours later as people trickled at a snail’s pace before organisers were convinced that no more people were coming.
Surprisingly, the gathered crowd sung the phased out Zimbabwe national anthem Ishe Komborera Africa substituting the word Africa with Zimbabwe.
“That’s the way we wanted our message to be heard, it was nothing political,” said one of organisers who declined to be named.
“This was just a prayer meeting for our leader; there was nothing factional or political about it. If someone in your family falls sick, it’s in our culture to pray for them.”
The prayer meeting went on without the organisers seeking police clearance but the police did not act as they do when opposition parties hold such unsanctioned meetings.
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